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Georgia and Other States Accused of Misreporting Coronavirus Data Used for Reopening Plans

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  • Several states are being slammed for misreporting or misrepresenting the number of coronavirus cases and testing data.
  • The most notable example is Georgia, where some have accused the health department of misrepresenting testing data to support Gov. Kemp’s broad reopening. 
  • The agency has shared a number of misleading and even inaccurate pieces of information on its website. Most recently, it posted a graph that showed a decline in cases, but only because the dates were out of order.
  • Other states that have started reopening, like Texas and Virginia, included antibody tests in their reports, which experts say skewed the data.

Georgia’s Graph Gaff

Several states, including those with some of the broadest and most aggressive plans for reopening, are being criticized for misrepresenting and misreporting their coronavirus testing data.

Already, there are significant discrepancies between how data is reported state to state.

But the reporting of testing data is crucial for both politicians and the public to accurately understand how the pandemic is impacting their state. With that information, they can make informed choices about public health, like whether or not to reopen.

Now, experts are worried that skewed data from poor reporting could lead some states to ease restrictions too fast. Others believe that may be intentional.

Georgia is perhaps the most notable example of a state that has been widely condemned for its practice concerning data reporting.  The state’s Department of Public Health (DPA) has had numerous mishaps in the area, and was most recently accused of sharing a misleading graph.

The graph in question, shared on the DPA’s website just over a week ago, displayed the number of confirmed cases in the five most heavily hit counties over a range of two weeks.

Source: Georgia Department of Public Health

At first glance, the graph appeared to show the number of cases declining steadily. However, after looking to the bottom axis of the graph— the x-axis— it becomes apparent that the dates of each county’s recorded cases are not in order at all.

The graph starts by going from April 28 to April 27, then to April 29. At one point it even jumps from May 7 to April 26, then back to May 3.

What’s more, the colored bars—which represent different counties— were also arranged in different orders on different dates, further contributing to the appearance that the graph was showing declining cases.

However, according to an analysis of that data by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there was not actually such a strong downward trend. 

“The data is still preliminary, and cases have held steady or dropped slightly in the past two weeks,” the newspaper reported.

The DPA eventually updated the graph, and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office issued an apology.

“The x axis was set up that way to show descending values to more easily demonstrate peak values and counties on those dates,” a spokesperson wrote on Twitter. “Our mission failed. We apologize. It is fixed.”

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The DPA, however, had a different explanation. A spokesperson told the AJC that the issue was due to an error in how it sorted dates. 

Other Errors in Georgia’s Reporting

This was not the first time that Georgia’s health department has made a significant reporting error.

According to the AJC, observers have noted “sloppiness in case counts, death counts and other measures that are fundamental to tracking a disease outbreak.”

The AJC also reported that in recent weeks, issues with the department’s data “caused confusion over whether novel coronavirus deaths had topped 1,000,” and that “The agency erroneously posted at least twice that children died.”

While it could be argued that some of those errors can be written up as a simple mistake during a chaotic and unprecedented time, many feel the graph crossed a line. Some are even skeptical that it was an accident.

“I have a hard time understanding how this happens without it being deliberate,” said State Rep. Jasmine Clark, who has a doctorate in microbiology and molecular genetics. “Literally nowhere ever in any type of statistics would that be acceptable.”

As a result, some people are worried that the data is “being portrayed in a way that favors Kemp’s early easing of restrictions,” according to the AJC.

Georgia was one of the first states to implement a sweeping reopening plan that massively scaled back restrictions. Even President Donald Trump, who has been a vocal supporter of reopening, slammed Kemp for the move.

The decision was controversial, and now, Georgia is being closely watched for what happens next. In other words, there’s a big incentive to make the numbers look good.

As the AJC points out, there are other instances where the DPA has portrayed and represented data in questionable manners—  especially when it comes to graphics.

For example, they have a map of the state that colors counties in shades of blue or red based on rates of infection. Recently, the health department changed the metrics so that the infection rate in a given county needs to be higher than it was before to be colored red.

“Based on the (key) they were using a couple weeks ago, a good third to a half of our state would show up as red right now,” said Dr. Harry Heiman, a clinical associate professor at the Georgia State University School of Public Health. “Because they keep moving the goalposts, if you will, it doesn’t look that way.”

Broader Issues With Methodology

The AJC also reported that another graph on the agency’s website “has led readers to think that cases were dropping dramatically, even though lower case numbers were the result of a lag in data collection.”

The lag in data is especially relevant because it speaks to a broader issue with the very core of the methodology the agency uses reports its data.

At first, Georgia recorded and reported coronavirus cases based on the testing date. Then, in late April, right when Kemp began to reopen the state, the DPA started reporting based on when people had symptoms.

“But because it can take weeks for case information to come in, the new method always appears to show that cases are declining, even if they are not,” the AJC reported, adding that the data lags caused by how the state records cases “mean that counts for recent dates are often a fraction of what they turn out to be when the data is more complete.”

As a result, experts have said that these daily numbers are actually a representation of what the case count was about two weeks earlier, meaning that the state’s current numbers are likely a reflection of the success the lockdown measures had.

Looking to Georgia

These data issues are highly concerning and potentially very dangerous for both the people of Georgia and the rest of the U.S.

Georgians use that data to make key decisions, and lawmakers use it to make decisions that impact millions of people in the state, but it also goes beyond that.

“Wrong information about Georgia’s battle against COVID-19 is already shaping the way the public sees the state,” the AJC wrote.

Because of that information, many have been praising Kemp’s actions and using the state as an example and evidence for reopening.

For example, in a May 8 article, the Wall Street Journal dubbed Kemp’s plan the “Georgia Model,” and used it as evidence that lockdowns are unnecessarily harming the economy. 

Other States With Data Problems

Georgia, however, is not the only state with data reporting problems.

Texas, which has arguably the broadest plan for reopening, has also shifted its testing metrics recently in a way that has problematized reporting.

“The Texas Department of State Health Service now includes antibody tests — which can detect whether a person previously recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus — in its daily testing totals,” the Texas Tribune reported last week.

But as the Tribune notes, that practice makes it impossible to tell how many tests show active infections versus previous infections. That is not the only problem with combining the data from antibody tests and traditional nasal-swab tests.

It also artificially inflates both the number of tests the state says it has done and falsely improves its positivity-rate, which compares the number of people who have tested positive to the total number of people tested.

Experts have said that merging these two very different data sets basically makes a positivity-rate data unusable.

That is quite significant because increased testing and decreasing positivity rates are two of the main factors that states have used as evidence to justify reopening. Like Virginia, which until last week used both traditional and antibody tests in its case count, but stopped after receiving backlash.

The misrepresentation of data also goes beyond testing. According to reports, when it first began easing restrictions, Florida tried to suppress county coroners from releasing coronavirus death counts.

See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Business Insider) (Vox)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human

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The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.


Groundbreaking Procedure

Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.

The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.

With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.

According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney. 

The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.

Concerns and Hurdles Ahead

While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles. 

Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this. 

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.

“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.

“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”

See what others are saying: (CNN)(BBC) (The New York Times)

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